5:40 PM Comment4 Comments

"I am absolutely certain that my Peace Corps service will greatly influence my personal and professional aspirations after my service ends. I cannot, however, profess with any certainty whatsoever how that influence will look in 27 months. At present, I do not have any definite aspirations for after my service because I am approaching my future with a spirit of openness. I must acknowledge, however, the gap between a professed spirit of openness and the actual embodiment of it. It is well and good for me to spout a ‘spirit of openness’ mantra as my guidepost for my new experience and beyond, but I know it will be quite difficult to actually be open to whatever may or may not present itself to me in 27 months. Professionally, my service may determine my life course, or it may not. I know at the very least I will be equipped with countless skills and experience on which to build my future vocation, whatever it may be. Regardless, the opportunities available to me through the Peace Corps will enable me to expand my understanding of the human experience – how we operate as humans to understand our place in the world – and equip me with the skills necessary to actively address issues of social justice and environmental sustainability. As far as how my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer will influence my personal aspirations, I hope to live and work openly, compassionately, warmly, and in a spirit of service according to my values long after my 27 months in Micronesia."

Wow. I wrote this in May 2009 - over two years ago - and in 2 months my Peace Corps service is ending. The future is upon me =)

The last two months have been filled with such goodness. When I returned to my island in July I was swept up into a computer project. Federai now has over 12 new computer stations and it is my job to train the whole island on how to operate and maintain them before I leave in October. Should be challenging, should be fun!

My good friend Kanani came out to Ulithi for a visit at the end of July. Her visit happened to coincide with a tropical storm, so we nestled in, watched movies and did puzzles galore! By the end of the week, we dubbed each other with official grandma titles. But the storm interfered with our travel plans to our Close of Service Conference, and our pace makers were sure put to the test. Fortunately, while the flights were cancelled on Friday, we made it back to Yap on Saturday with about 12 hours to spare before we left for Pohnpei.

We arrived in Pohnpei in the middle of the night and were whisked away in a van to our hotel. With no bearings whatsoever, I crashed on my mosquito-netted waterbed. The next morning I started awake, shooting up to find the most breathtaking view of the water and Sokehs rock. Amazing. From then on, our COS conference at the Village did not disappoint.

Our Close of Service Conference was nothing short of wonderful. A number of my fellow volunteers were sadly missed, and we had a cozy affair of 13 PCVs. There were four of us on our way to Pohnpei and we had a lovely layover on Guam shopping, eating, and taking our outer island friend around. He was on his way to attend the College of Micronesia and he had never left Yap before. It was so neat to see him experience so many new things - elevators, hotel key cards, the Sunday rush at Denny's. Seeing his experience made me understand that this world can be as overwhelming as it is expansive.

From the layover on Guam with my ladies, it felt like I could feel the Universe pulsing through me - the energy and goodness were so palpable. And it continued throughout the week. The best way I can think to describe it is that Peace Corps has been a 2 year lesson on learning how to be present regardless. At COS I felt myself being present, and it felt like I was a sponge soaking up so much goodness! It was a rare opportunity in my life where, in those moments, I had the full realization that this experience as a whole has been whole-heartedly worth it - from chatting w/ the PCV transferring to Jordan to sharing around the circle about our group and our experience. We even saw the last Harry Potter movie in the only Micronesian movie theater!

Recently I spent the morning at a local funeral. The women here are known for their histrionics - loud, prolonged, dramatic sobs. That morning, however, after sitting with the body and saying Mass, there was only a single woman sobbing, her real crying audible under the long, musical notes of her sob - it was really quite beautiful. I felt honored to be a part of it. Through family ties the woman was a host relative of mine (everyone in the outer islands is connected to me somehow through family), and it was special for me to be able to join the ceremony as one of them. I think it was even more meaningful for me because this is technically my "old" community, and I still fit naturally. The only other funeral I attended was at the beginning of my service, and thinking back to then I can see the depth and the richness of sinking in to these communities for two years.

And so my two years are coming to a close. October 26th is my final day as a PCV. This Friday I return to Federai for the last stretch, during which time I'll be training the island on the new computer system donated this summer. I will say goodbye to Federai and come back to Yap on Oct. 17, finish up PC logistics, and say goodbye again here on Yap. On the 26th I fly from Yap to Jordan, which is where I'm moving. I'm going home to Colorado before Thanksgiving to spend time with my family through the New Year. Then it's back to Jordan with Andrew.

As you can tell, I'm entering the reflective stage upon finishing my service here. Despite my attempts at being present and aware, I do still feel as though time must be playing some sort of trick on me. How is it two years have passed and I have only two months to go? Regardless of the answer, I do know my task now is to be present and to be grateful. And I really am. Thank you. So now the question I really should be tackling is...

How do I think Peace Corps Service will HAS influenceD my personal and professional aspirations after my service...?

To be continued =) Whee!

6:02 PM Comment2 Comments

Culture Day 2011 - traditional Ulithian stick dance

Federai and proud

Commute to work

10:11 PM Comment0 Comments

There is a refrain from a song on one of my favorite albums that reminds me of how distances can increase over time. When I joined the Peace Corps in Micronesia, the physical distance certainly came easily. Somehow (miraculously it seems) I presently find myself almost two years down the road with roughly four more months to go. So now I’ve got some temporal distance, too. And yet there is another distance of my own personal making. There is the distance that occurs when I become busied with life around me or plainly forget to be intentional and do not reach out to connect with those who are supporting me. For the past half year or so, I have been stupendously negligent in most areas of friendships and relationships, especially with letters, emails, and updates. As a friend used to say, “if you wait till the last minute, it’ll only take a minute.” While this may have worked for me in the past (college papers, what?), it is not how I wish to approach the important relationships in my life. So rather than waiting, I’ll just get on with it, shall I?

The wizened volunteers before me told me “the second year goes fast,” just as before I joined the Peace Corps I was told “there will be challenges.” Both times, I thought I respected and heeded the advice, incorporating it into my present and preparing myself for what would come. “Sure it’ll be challenging,” I thought, “I like challenges.” Later I found myself thinking, “but I didn’t think it would be challenging this way, and no thank you I don’t care for this challenge.” Now I am thinking, “but I didn’t think this year would go so fast.” When Peace Corps tells you to be patient and flexible, they’re basically just saying, “oh, just you wait and see all the ways reality will budge into what you think you know or expect, no matter how self-aware or prepared you try to be.” The flexible part entails allowing your experience to be a crowbar in your life, prying open places where you never thought a space could be, or at other times dismantling whole mansions of evicted expectations with the tiniest tap.

And that’s what it all comes down to. It doesn’t matter what I’ve read or what I’ve been told. We are inherently self-ish creatures endowed with our own spatio-temporal spark of consciousness. There are certain things we need to experience for ourselves to get their full value. Yes, sparks can reach out to each other, as often happens through relationships and/or art. Yet it comes down to what your own spark experiences, spatio-temporally. And so I selfishly claim that this is my experience, attached to my spark.

There is something in the art of sharing experiences, which is why, when it comes down to it, I think we are touched by the deep relationships in our lives as well as the great arts of poetry, theatre, painting, comedy – because they somehow transcend our physical limitations to connect our sparks outside of our individual selves. I claim to be no great poet or painter, but I would like to strive in my nameless mediocrity to be the best sharer of my experiences I can be, hoping in my own way to connect with the treasured people in my life - friends, family, kindred spirits. I need this connection, just as my spark needs this experience.

When I joined the Peace Corps, I received a document called the Volunteer Assignment Description (VAD). Smack dab on the cover of the VAD were the official dates of my service: November 6, 2009 to November 6, 2011. “2011!” I thought, “the future!” I was 24 at the time and calculated ahead – I’d be 26 when (inshallah) I completed the Peace Corps. Now it IS 2011 and I AM 26. The future made present. Almost. And so now I find myself preparing for life after the finish line, for that unfathomed age of 27 and all the life beyond. Which includes…?

…Living in Jordan with my partner Andrew, Arabic codename Shookers, who is making his first blog appearance. The plan for the immediate future is to make a short visit to Jordan after PC before returning home for a couple of months for the holidays with Andrew and the families. And what will I be doing with the rest of my life?

Well, I am in the beginning stages of hatching a master plan for a Masters degree and beyond. I am exploring the idea of a Masters in Sustainable Development to prepare me to work with organizations such as the UNHCR, UNRWA, and/or UNDP Jordan, as well as smaller NGOs and non-profits in Jordan. The idea in my mind seems to be a flow of my passions for social justice and environmental sustainability within the global community. First service through Peace Corps, then learning through a Masters in Sustainable Development, and finally a culmination in a job, combining my skills, knowledge, and passion day to day in service to others and the environment.

Soon to come, month to month updates focusing on island life and what I've been working on. In the mean time, it's good to be back in touch and I would love to hear about what you've been working on and what adventures you've been having.


3:59 PM Comment1 Comments

At the beginning of April I caught the ship in for a resource trip. The time has been wonderful and refreshing and full of an unexpected adventure to Manila. I made friends, both on Yap and in the PI, and it's been wonderful to reconnect with people.

Here are a few tidbits, some taken from previous emails and some just spur of the moment (sorry, no island reflections, but don't worry, things have been going really well out there and I'm working on a full update). I apologize because I have been very negligent with communication lately. Thank you for all of your support and love and letters.

My heart and wishes of well-being go out to Japan, however unspecific and unknowledgeable they are. It's kind of scary coming back in and seeing pictures and hearing stories. I can understand why some people never go back to the "real world" after living so far removed from it. But then again, I don't want a tension-less life. The real world is hard, it has struggles, and it has meaning and compassion. It's such a simple and hard thing to comprehend at the same time. As my friend Cate pointed out, makes you wonder what the “real world” really is.

I recently found myself on a lay-over in Guam on my way back to Yap. I ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut and walked to pick it up, which ended up being a 20 minute walk each way (which made me feel much better about actually eating the pizza). On the way, though, there was a Taco Bell. Now, I'm not one of those Americans who goes out of their way for Taco Bell like some of the other volunteers do (I am Organic Hurianek, afterall), but I figured, since it was IN my way and since my standards of consumption have greatly plummeted since joining PC, why not? See my new Facebook profile picture for further proof.

So, as you may or may not know, this was on my way back from Manila for a "Dental MedEvac" with a broken (well, dislocated and fractured) toe to boot (ha!). This time they couldn't just "fix me" b/c of the infection. So they undid the root canal I got over Xmas and "instilled antibiotics." There will definitely be a Part 2 in about a month, and then we’ll see if we need a Part 3. It sounds scary and painful, but the experience was painless and very enjoyable and heartening. Oftentimes, coming from Yap and going to one of the biggest cities in the world, I felt like an island bumpkin, but it was so interesting to meet up with a number of local PCVs in the Philippines. The PC program there seemed huge compared to the FSM/Palau program here, and I didn't even know before that there was a program there (it's actually one of the oldest...someone told me it would've been the FIRST, but the plane ride was longer so somewhere in Africa beat them to it). There are over 200 volunteers, so there's a wonderful assortment of people. I got to share about my experience and stun people about living topless and teaching only three students. They stunned me in lots of other ways, like texting and students making school signs by using images from the internet...I saw a picture of one sign that said "Everyone needs to lend a hand" and it had an outline of Hitler w/ outstretched hand and an iPod!

I heard lots of interesting stories and experiences, like about the "bakla" culture here (which is basically a socially accepted 'third sex' of flamboyantly gay men) and how one volunteer's bakla mayor literally painted the town PINK! I've also eaten so much good food that I've brought back some of the Philippines with me. Indian food, burritos, even just the eggs, wheat bread, and tea w/ milk and sugar for breakfast. We went to an all PB place, I ate mango everything, even an avocado popsicle. I basically just attached myself to other volunteers and I was taken on a great trip around the city, to markets and bead stores, to eco-goods stores where I got organic toothpaste and Newman-O's and a really cool coin purse made from woven plastic bags.

I was really happy to have experienced the human dynamic of the PC program there, I mean like, social interactions between a group of diverse Americans with different experiences under the same context. I connected with lots of volunteers, even if I just met them for a taxi ride. On my last night they took me to the PC-infamous hole in the wall Indian food restaurant some volunteer found once and has passed down for PC generations. They treated me to dinner and we had fun talking story. I feel happy about the connections I made in the PI and hope that they continue in a very groovy, fluid yet sincere way throughout life.

Here’s what’s on deck for me: Today I leave on the ship to return to Federai and I’ll finish out the school year there. I come back to Yap at the end of May for MedEvac Part 2, then vacation to Jordan, and (if necessary) MedEvac Part 3.

I know there are many challenges involved in the work we do. As I understand it, these challenges are inherent to our work and indicate a strong need for what we do. If it were easy, we wouldn't be here. I am very thankful for the opportunity to be here and for the challenges I've faced.

Yay for your friendship and for the adventures you're on. When you can, tell me about them!

Much love from your happy friend,
emily nell hurianek

12:45 PM Comment1 Comments

I leave tomorrow on the plane to return to Federai. Looking back on all the wonderful events and experiences during my vacation, I’m nothing but grateful.

First there was Mid-Service Training for the Peace Corps in Pohnpei. It was the first time the whole of our group came together since we began in the fall of 2009 and it was delightful to reconnect, catch up, and deepen relationships. I know this is often claimed of many groups, but we really do have a strong group dynamic based on friendship, love, and support. It all began when the Palau volunteers flew into Yap and we all went to Guam for a 13 hour lay-over. Despite being sleep-deprived and unaware of the hotel room PC paid for us, the ten of us navigated our time in Guam wonderfully and never once got cranky or mutinous. After visiting one of the world’s largest K-marts and feasting on American fast food (eeek culture shock!), we flew to Chuuk for yet another reunion with Porter, Andrea, Trevor, Kirby, and Dan. Still without any sleep, we flew into Pohnpei and headed up to our hotel. Everyone in the Yap and Palau group had been up since Saturday Morning and so went to bed…well, not everyone. By some unknown power I was able to stay up all night, laughing, joking, and talking until the cloudy sunrise. I knew I could sleep every other night of my life, but that the moment that night was a once in a lifetime opportunity – it was the looking forward to this reconnection that helped keep me going during the hard times the previous year, and it was our laughter that seem to make it all worthwhile.

Laughter was the signature throughout the rest of my time at MST. There was drinking cocoa and crocheting like old ladies, my first toga party, a do-or-die dance party, accidentally missing the staff/volunteer softball game, and watching movies and telling poop stories. Our final night together, us M76s went to dinner. At the suggestion of the fabulous and beautiful Gita Drew, each person stood up and shared a reflection on how amazing, dynamic, and supportive we are as a group (ding ding goes our own bell). I shared on the beauty of each member, another shared about how her door will always and unconditionally be open to us in the future as we continue to be friends. Although we were missing a few people who had already left for their sites, the sense of unity, friendship, and frankly family was life-motivating. Allow me to say this group of people jazzes me to be alive. It really is a beautiful thing.

As are my friends and family back home. For the first time in three years I was able to spend Christmas with my family. On the way home from Guam, I passed over Colorado as I flew the plenty plenty hours to the east coast. It seems my thirst for wintery weather helped provoke the first snows to Maine this season. Over a very quick (and COLD!) two days in Maine I reconnected with a good number of great friends. Unfortunately, two days is not a lot of time to catch up on almost two years away, so the next time I’ll have to visit longer 

I had such a lovely reunion with my family when I landed in Denver. My plane was late which allowed my parents to stake out prime real estate at the “waiting area” bar in DIA. My parents had both angles covered and I was delighted to see my dad as I came up the escalator and then hear my mom cry out from the other side when she saw me. And thanks be to the customs gods that I got all my bags through! Then it was into the family jeep on straight on to dinner. Along the way my brother Noah asked me what was one thing I wanted to make sure I did while I was home. Tired and hungry, the first thing that came to my mind was “Mexican food.” Lo and behold we were en route to meet my other brother Nate at none other than a Mexican restaurant. It was wonderful after so long away to simply be in the presence of my family, not to mention sharing a meal and stories together.

The highlight of my vacation was Christmas dinner at Grannie’s house with the whole family, laughing, joking, eating. While home I also helped make cookies, volunteered with my hardworking and amazing parents with their food pantry project, attended our candle light Christmas Eve service, and went to my friends’ golden birthday party…Oh yeah, and the dentist. Here’s my advice. The best way to approach your first root canal is mid brewery tour with your brother, sister, and friends. Not a bad itinerary for a snowy afternoon: Left Hand Brewery, Comfort Dental, Mountain Sun.

And what better way to follow-up a wonderful trip home to the family than to head to South America to visit your bosom friend? Well, check out my previous post on this one.

Which pretty much brings me up to date. Yap, lost bags, head colds, barrels of oil, host brother’s birthday, PCV friends, and planning for the future. Right now I’m looking at coming in for a quick resource trip after graduation in May. Then there’s our official Close of Service Conference around the beginning of August. Then I’m pretty much in the home stretch. Now, I’m sure many of you are asking, what then, after Peace Corps? Well, try this on for size. Jordan. Just sayin’.

4:48 PM Comment2 Comments

Andy’s death was and is a very difficult and surreal experience. The news came days after from a friend in England (of all places) and I was not able to simply get on a plane to give or get support. Life, love, mortality, the ocean. All these basic concepts flooded my usually basic reality on island. Soon they got jumbled and bumped up against each other and often led to a condition I generally term “a bad case of the mucky mucks.” Spiritual and emotional frustrations ebbed and flowed during October and November for me, though they were usually under the surface, not lethal but unpleasant.

It seemed to come to a head one Sunday afternoon while I was doing some last-minute lesson planning. Kids trickled in from the nearby weekly volleyball game and it seemed, as usual, all bets were off. They were running and screaming and pushing and fighting, all the while dishelving the library. One swear word, explicit drawing, and writing on the wall too many, I snapped and shouted for all the kids to leave immediately. Thus commenced Library Lock Down - NOT my finest moment.

Talking to the principle, I decided to close the library for the next week, both as punishment and preparation. What I really needed to do was make sure that the students and I were on the same page - that the school's expecations for the library and appropriate behavior were well-known and aligned with the expecations of the students.

So over the course of the following week, I worked hard to "refurbish" the library, cleaning shelves, organizing, creating activity cabinets and teaching resource centers. And, above, all, I dug out and dusted off the old library rules that had long since fallen by the wayside. Once everything was in place as far as the library rules, procedures, and philosophy, it was time to bring back the students - to unlock the library.

The next Monday I held an orientation with each class throughout the day. "We want Happy Books," I said, "as well as Happy Students and Happy Teachers." We learned together what the rules and expectations are in the library and by the end of the day our Library Club was full of eager and excited members.

Since then, the library has been a happy place for both the students and me. With the Library Club we explore and maintain the library - because let's be honest, libraries are just so darn cool. Certain days students can check out games and activities - kites and yo-yos seem to be the hot ticket.

The most wonderful feeling of pride and success came one day when I had a staff meeting and had to leave the Library Monitors in charge. Not only did the students play and work quietly, they even cleaned and closed up entirely on their own! I couldn't say who was prouder, me watching the kids walk away from a job well done or the students having done the job!

(Pictures are being persnickety and may or not make an appearance.)

11:40 AM Comment0 Comments

My last post regarding island life talked about a new beginning. Now I am beginning to learn about endings.

November 6th, 2011. That’s the finish line. When I joined the Peace Corps, I dreamed ahead to the distant future, a time far off in the year 2011 and the age of 26. Lo and behold I am 26 and it is 2011. T minus 10 months to go.

It’s strange how 10 months can feel both solid, immovable, forever and like it could disappear in a blink.

October 15th, 2010. Another finish line none of us were prepared for.

And it’s strange how the past, which was so heavily present at the time, is now to be looked back upon and recounted for you today. Sitting down now, Tuesday January 25th at 10:20 am, I stare at my tumbling laundry hoping it will tell me where to begin. But, I smile as I remind myself, I’ve already begun and I’m well on my way. And I guess that’s where I started the last post. And so that’s where I will pick up, grateful that I can.

At the beginning of October I returned to Yap for a resource trip where I resupplied on many levels. There was shopping for the basics (mosquito coils, oatmeal, TP) and utilizing communication with friends and family thousands of miles away. Then there were also the joys and wonders of my host family and friends here on Yap, plus the adventure of becoming SCUBA certified. Birthday celebrations, ice cream indulgences, reconnecting and catching up – simple things that sustain and rejuvenate me to return to island life.

Back on Fedreay, life fell back into place that first week with lesson planning, talk story, and starting weaving projects. Plus I was delighted to hear the ship was returning to the island by the end of the week, bringing with it my dear friend Gita and news of her life on Fais over the last few months.

Normally the ship anchors for hours off the island while it delivers its services and supplies. Yet since we expected it, we got the opposite; Gita and I had maybe half an hour to catch up as she showered at my house and “freshened up” from the ship (if you’ve ever traveled on the H-1 you’ll understand the use of quotation marks). So much life to share in such a short space of time. And we had no idea that so much of life could change so totally so quickly.

The next day our dear friend Andy Buth drowned off the shores of Fais Island.

Many people didn’t know who he was, perhaps except as the tall white guy with nipple rings who brought his own spears and knives when he came out on the Voyager in April. In Woleai he was known as the guy who “goes where the fish have seen no man.” To me, he was a new friend. To Gita, he was a life-long friend and fellow adventurer in life and love. What more can I say than the truth -

His life was an adventure, and he died happy and in love.

Andy, may you continue to soar and explore. Thank you for sharing your time with us. We love you and will think of you often while continuing the adventure. Rest in a wild, free, and open peace Andy.